The APPG for Prescribed Drug Dependence met on 19 October in the House of Lords to discuss the issue of dependence upon opioid painkillers. The APPG heard how prescriptions of opioid analgesics have increased by over 500% since 1991. The British Pain Society, who attended the meeting, said: ‘We do not know what the scale of the opioid-related harms is, but all of us see patients in this trap in almost every clinic.’ Experts attending the meeting agreed that currently there are hardly any appropriate services to support patients who wish to withdraw from these drugs.
The APPG for Prescribed Drug Dependence therefore supports the BMA’s call for a national helpline to help patients withdraw from opioid painkillers, benzodiazepines and antidepressants. Millions of patients are taking these drugs unnecessarily, costing tens of millions to the NHS, and should come off with appropriate support. Recently the APPG, working with the University of Roehampton, has estimated that there are over a quarter of a million long-term users of benzodiazepines in the UK alone, while the BNF (British National Formulary) indicates their use for 2 to 4 weeks only.
Side effects and withdrawal effects can be very severe and last for months and sometimes years, often leading to disability and sometimes suicide. However there are no NHS services to help people withdraw from these or other psychotropic medications.
The APPG believes that a national helpline and accompanying website would be an essential resource for patients, carers, families and doctors, providing a low cost, yet effective national response to a recognised public health issue.
Paul Flynn MP, chair of the APPG, said: ‘Prescribed drug dependence can have devastating consequences for patients, leading to years of unnecessary suffering and disability. There are profound societal costs as well, because of the impact on families and communities, lost productivity and of course many millions spent unnecessarily each year on prescriptions by a cash-strapped NHS. This issue has been ignored by the medical establishment for too long, and I am delighted that the BMA is now calling for a national, 24-hour helpline to help tackle the issue. The APPG for Prescribed Drug Dependence supports this call, and I shall be writing to the public health minister accordingly.’